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Silhouettes of three jury members
Legal, criminological and forensic, Violence and trauma

Human remains in the courtroom

Ella Rhodes hears from Hannah Fawcett about a forthcoming British Psychological Society event around the emotional impact of jury duty.

16 February 2023

How did you first become interested in this area?

My interest in jurors arose out of my PhD research into deception and alibis in forensic contexts. The case of Maxine Carr and the false alibi she gave police to cover the double murder by her boyfriend Ian Huntley fascinated me. I was surprised when friends and colleagues suggested that in this position, they too would provide a false alibi for a partner. This prompted my research into the provision and evaluation of alibi evidence.

Discovering the strong 'alibi scepticism' held by jurors and the way this could skew jurors' evaluations of the case opened my eyes to the field of juror decision making research. A chance meeting with a forensic anthropologist at a university training course led to discussions over coffee about the intersection of psychology and forensic science in courtroom settings, and specifically the biases jurors may hold towards forensic science evidence. Our discussions led to me providing several guest lectures on the role of psychological factors in the processing and decision making of forensic practitioners and jurors for the Forensic Science Society and the British Association for Forensic Anthropology. This window into another discipline was fascinating and illustrated lots of fruitful ground for psychologists, forensic anthropologists, and forensic scientists to work together.

I was surprised to learn that although presenting evidence in court is relatively commonplace for forensic science practitioners, there is relatively little research into how jurors understand and use this complex scientific evidence, or the emotional impact this evidence may have.

What challenges does this evidence throw up?

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and similar TV shows are hugely popular and have the power to shape juror attitudes and behaviours towards forensic science evidence in real criminal trials. Recent technological advances in the presentation of complex forensic science evidence allows for highly detailed and graphic photographs, computer models, and 3D printed models of human remains to be presented to jurors to demonstrate victim injuries. 3D printed models allow jurors to put their fingers into bullet wounds, touch cuts made by weapons, and hold a victim's (replica) skull in their hands. The enhanced physical closeness and hands-on experience of holding 3D printed replicas has the potential to be more traumatic for jurors compared to viewing 2D images.

In our talk we'll consider the impact these emotive 3D printed remains may have on juror accuracy and impartiality, and question whether jurors are left with severe long-lasting trauma following exposure to this type of evidence. We suggest ways that jurors could be better supported to deal with the traumatic aspects of jury service in general, and skeletal evidence in particular. 

So this type of evidence may be important, but you have concerns over the impact?

Yes, viewing human remains (in the form of images and models) may be essential in aiding jurors to visualise cut marks, trauma sites, and bullet wounds and form a better understanding of how a violent offence occurred. The collaboration I mentioned led to a 2020 paper examining the different imaging techniques for the visualisation of evidence in court, finding that compared to photographic and 3D computation models, 3D printed models of skeletal remains enhanced jurors' technical language comprehension (Errickson et al., 2020). Although clearly juror understanding is essential for fair and accurate decision making, should this come at the expense of juror wellbeing?

Given the difficult nature of many criminal cases and the representations of injury and death jurors may be confronted with, research into their psychological wellbeing and how evidence can be best presented to minimise long term trauma would seem essential. Jurors have previously been shown to favour less detailed and less realistic representations of post-mortem photographs (Haragi et al., 2020), and 3D printed replica skeletal remains are found by jurors to be more confronting than other presentation mediums (Blau et al., 2019). Thus, although useful for comprehension, it seems likely that realistic 3D printed models of skeletal remains may be more upsetting for jurors than other evidence presentation modalities and may be associated with greater trauma responses.

This is where our research comes in. We were recently awarded funding from the British Academy to investigate how presentation modality – photographs, 3D computer models and 3D printed replicas – affects juror wellbeing and decision-making. Our project aims to

  • Improve understanding of how jurors are cognitively and emotionally affected by viewing / interacting with stimuli representing human skeletal remains in the courtroom
  • Bring together key stakeholders involved in the presentation of skeletal remains in court to develop a long-term strategic plan to investigate the impact of 3D printed replicas of skeletal remains in court on juror's mental health, discussions, and juror's verdict
  • Develop good practice protocols and briefing recommendations for the presentation of skeletal evidence in court.

What still needs to change in this area?

Formalised support for jurors exposed to distressing trial content needs to be provided. Courtrooms are an environment that is alien to many people and so are viewed with a mixture of excitement, apprehension, and fear. The traditions used in courts – wigs, gowns, archaic language, and unfamiliar protocols – can be intimidating and unfriendly to the uninitiated. And although members of the public can attend most court cases, many people are unaware of this, and relatively few people attend court to observe a case. Unless called for jury duty, most people probably won't think about what it means to be a juror. This means that TV and films become most people's reference point when to comes to court. Given their usual focus on the offender, the juror experience is largely neglected in these portrayals of court and individuals may be unprepared to experience trauma responses because of their juror experience.

Qualifying members of the public have no choice over whether to participate in juror duty, and this frequently means being exposed to upsetting and unpleasant forensic evidence, and information and imagery about death, violence, and complex scientific techniques. However, exposure to indirect trauma through jury duty has the potential to cause intrusive thoughts about the case, behavioural and emotional changes, and hyperarousal that can persist for years (Barak & Szor, 2000). Robertson et al. (2009) found evidence of both short-term and long-term trauma responses as a direct result of jury service. This is clearly illustrated by a juror in the high-profile trial of murdered child Logan Mwangi; 'I felt as though my normal life was completely hijacked… This completely took over my life... [I was] completely traumatised' (Bryan, 2022).

The lack of investment into supporting jurors with their complex emotional and psychological post-trial responses is a huge failure in the system. As Hanvey (2022) states 'When the only tools available to the court for aftercare of the deeply affected or traumatized juror are suggestions to phone the Samaritans, or ask a busy GP for a referral for scarce counselling, does this really balance the criminal justice requirement that if called, you must attend?'. We argue that four things need to change to provide a better experience and aftercare:

  1. Arming jurors before the trial starts with tips and techniques for engaging with difficult case material (such as mindfulness and breathing techniques).
  2. Utilise modes of evidence presentation that are the least trauma-inducing.
  3. Mental health specialists available in courts for jurors to turn to within the trial and for post-trial debriefing.
  4. The instigation of a formal system of wellbeing support that is specialised, readily accessible, confidential, and available for as long as individual jurors require.

Not only would care for juror wellbeing benefit individuals engaging in jury duty, the culpable control model suggests that emotive and traumatic case material may actually lead to a higher frequency of guilty verdicts, damaging the fair and accurate administration of justice (Bright & Goodman-Delahunty, 2006).

How commonplace is juror trauma?

Lonergan et al's. (2016) systematic review showed that up to 50 per cent of jurors experience symptoms of trauma, with the highest levels associated with cases involving homicide, gruesome evidence, or child victims. Past experience of trauma and being female may also enhance susceptibility to trial-induced trauma. There were a wide range of negative long term behavioural, emotional, and physiological outcomes, including depression, intrusive memories and flashbacks, sleep disturbances, feelings of detachment and numbness, avoidance and fearfulness, increased tension and anxiety, and hypervigilance and physiological arousal.

What do you hope people will take away from your talk?

An appreciation for the hard work of jurors! I think many of us take for granted that jurors will be there to deliberate cases and ensure justice is served. However, we rarely stop to think about the impact of jury duty on individual jurors beyond the disruption that jury duty can have to work, study and family whilst the case is ongoing. I hope listeners to our talk will leave with a new respect and appreciation for jurors and the vital role that they play in our criminal justice system. And I hope people will feel more comfortable about the future prospect of jury duty. Even just a few people feeling prepared and equipped for the stresses of jury duty would be a definite positive outcome for our talk.

There may also be listeners in our audience that have experienced trauma and upset from past jury duty. The lack of formalised psychological support may send the message that most jurors don't feel upset and that they are alone in their trauma. It would be amazing if by hearing our talk, some of these individuals felt validated and were encouraged to access to appropriate support to address their trauma.

Finally, I hope that by hearing our talk, more academics will be encouraged to conduct research into juror wellbeing and the impact of different evidence and case types upon this. Implementing meaningful widespread and long-term psychological support services for jurors is a huge undertaking, both practically and financially, which will only be possible with a large body of evidence convincingly showing the need and benefit of such services.

The research team (funded by the British Academy Small Research Grants Scheme):

  • Dr Hannah Fawcett, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, MMU (Principal Investigator)
  • Dr Maribel Cordero, Reader in Psychology, MMU
  • Dr Maria Livanou, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, MMU
  • Dr Dave Errickson, Lecturer in Archaeology/Anthropology, Cranfield Forensic Institute, Cranfield University
  • Dr Rachael Carew, Assistant Lecturer in Forensic Science, Coventry University


The event is on 3 April, 6:30-8pm, at Rain Bar in Manchester. Register here.


Barak, Y., & Szor, H. (2000). Lifelong posttraumatic stress disorder: evidence from aging Holocaust survivors. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 2(1), 57–62. 

Bryan, B. N. (2022, June 30). Logan Mwangi: Juror traumatised by murder trial evidenceBBC News

Blau, S., Phillips, E., O'Donnell, C., & Markowsky, G. (2019). Evaluating the impact of different formats in the presentation of trauma evidence in court: a pilot study. Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 51(6), 695-704.

Bright, D. A. & Goodman-Delahunty, J. (2006). Gruesome Evidence and Emotion: Anger, Blame, and Jury Decision-Making. Law and Human Behavior, 30, 183–202. 

Errickson, D., Fawcett, H., Thompson, T. J. U., & Campbell, A. (2020). The Effect of Different Imaging Techniques for the Visualisation of Evidence in Court on Jury Comprehension. International Journal of Legal Medicine. 134, 1451–1455.

Hanvey, S. (2022, July 20). The trials and tribulations of jury service. The Justice Gap.

Haragi, M., Yamaguchi, R., Okuhara, T., & Kiuchi, T. (2020). Questionnaire survey of a mock jury on their impressions of medical-legal illustrations aimed at reducing trauma and PTSD of jurors. Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine, 43:2, 67-75.

Lonergan, M., Leclerc, M-E., Descamps, M., Pigeon, S., & Brunet, A. (2016). Prevalence and severity of trauma- and stressor-related symptoms among jurors: A review. Journal of Criminal Justice, 47, 51–61. 

Robertson, N., Davies, G., & Nettleingham, A. (2009). Vicarious Traumatisation as a Consequence of Jury Service. The Howard Journal (48)1, 1-12.